July 20, 2019

Madison pastor expresses faith by embracing change - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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Madison pastor expresses faith by embracing change

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Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2019 3:51 pm

The Rev. Constanze Hagmaier references Scripture in speaking about her new call.

"I compare myself to Jonah," she said at one point. "I reluctantly accepted that call."

Later, she continued in the same vein, saying, "I needed a lot of time under the broom tree. There are a lot of things I love about where I'm at."

In late May, Hagmaier, who has served as a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church for the past 10 years, was elected to serve as bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Unlike presidential candidates who campaign to influence voters, Hagmaier did not actively seek the position. Instead, she was nominated when church leaders across the state considered a study commissioned to identify desirable strengths in a new bishop and prayerfully selected individuals for the synod assembly to consider in May.

Going into the synod assembly, Hagmaier was one of 15 nominees who had been chosen. Written ballots reduced that number to seven. Then, each of the nominees was asked to address the assembly.

"That was very overwhelming," Hagmaier said. "What do you say about yourself in five minutes?"

She chose to share with voting members how advice from her mentor at her ordination in 2001 influences the way she serves her church and her community. He told her that, first of all, she should love God.

"Faith is what brought me here," she said, noting that she and her husband, the Rev. Dirk Hagmaier, immigrated to the United States from Germany in order to serve as pastors.

For her, faith is inclusive and is reflected in a church that celebrates differences, a church which nurtures a culture of empathy and active listening.

"In all of our differences, what unites us is our baptism. That is a big part of who I am as a pastor," Hagmaier said.

Her mentor told her to be faithful to her call.

"I said I actually have more than one call. My very first call is to be a wife. My second call is to be a parent. My third call is to be a pastor. That was the most unique gift I brought to the table," she said.

Hagmaier explained that being a wife and mother nurtures and shapes her call as a pastor. They give her "the freedom and liberty to do what I am called to do," she said.

Her mentor also told her that she needed to love her neighbor.

"That is what faith is," Hagmaier indicated. "Faith is not about you. Faith is not about me. Faith is about our neighbor."

Two more ballots were required before she was chosen by a slim three-vote margin.

In some ways, Hagmaier's life will not change. Although she has handed in her resignation at Trinity Lutheran Church effective July 31, that church and Madison will continue to be her home.

"Pastor Dirk's call is separate from mine. Nothing will affect his ministry here," she explained. "This will still be my home congregation."

In other ways, everything will change. She expects to be on the road 60% of the time. She expects her understanding of her new ministry to evolve over time.

"This is a whole new world for me," Hagmaier said. "My prayer right now is to have God show me what He needs me to do."

Her home church in Germany, which she visited with her family in June, has been a source of inspiration as she prepared for her new ministry. Located in Meinerdingen, the church predates the Reformation by 250 years and, like many in Germany, was at one time a dying church.

However, when she and her family worshiped there on Pentecost, they witnessed a "thriving, vital, growing community."

"It was just beautiful to see. The church is filled. The church is vibrant," Hagmaier said.

That change affirmed what she has personally experienced -- that both life and the faith journey are about change and new beginnings. This openness to new beginnings is an expression of her faith.

"It's a moment by moment thing. It's a daily, living, breathing thing. The Spirit is powerful, working among the people," she explained.

With that in mind, Hagmaier approaches her new responsibilities with both humility and awe. She experiences this new call as a gift "with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to have the synod put that trust in my ability and my gifts."

"It's a great honor," she said. "It's a little bit scary."

Hagmaier has been elected to serve for six years. She expects to spend much of the first year listening so that she can more fully appreciate what "church" means to ELCA members across the state. Out of that, she expects to develop a clearer sense of how to serve as bishop.

"My hope is that I will make a good partner on the journey we are on," she said.

The installation service will be held at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 7. The public is invited to attend.

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